Skin cancer survivor launches campaign to teach teens

Timna Understein shows her scar from the melanoma she had last year. Understein was a sun worshipper in her younger days. (WTOP/Paula Wolfson)

Paula Wolfson,

WASHINGTON – Timna Understein loved having a tan and she has the scars to prove it.

She grew up in southern California, a self-proclaimed “Venice Beach baby,” and remembers slathering on tanning oil whenever she could to bask in the sun.

She moved to New York for college, then on to Bethesda, Md. and Chapel Hill, N.C., but she never lost her love of tanning — until the day her life changed forever.

“In 2008, I noticed a tiny black spot on the bottom of my right foot. It proved to be malignant melanoma. The deadliest form of skin cancer. A second melanoma turned up last year on her right forearm,” she said.

Understein wanted others to learn from her mistakes. And so she turned to social media, launching a Facebook page called “Respect the Rays.”

“It all came about because I have had melanoma twice and I see the need for educating teens,” she said.

She said she turned to Facebook and Twitter because it’s everywhere. And she admits she has been stunned by the response.

“Just every day, it keeps growing.”

Understein said she tries to make the Facebook page “informational as well as inspirational.”

She has already received comments for the page from celebrities and says the idea is to enlist “cool and hip people that practice safe sun.”

She knows her message can be a tough sell, saying teens often think they are invincible, including her own two teenage boys.

“Even watching me with my surgeries and biopsies and recovery and my scars, they still think that that will never happen to them,” she says.

But it could.

The Skin Cancer Foundation says melanoma is the most common form of cancer for adults ages 25 to 29, and the second most common form of cancer for people between the ages of 15 and 29.

The foundation has a long list of skin cancer prevention tips.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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